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The educated face of unemployment

Boitumelo Maswabi
SWEET SUCCESS: Race

Meet Sedi the Entomologist

According to Statistics Botswana’s Quarterly Multi-Topic Survey Q4 of 2022, the unemployment rate is currently at 25.4%.

In its latest overview of the country, the World Bank paints a grim picture of our education system’s failure to produce skilled, employable graduates: “Education expenditure in Botswana is among the highest in the world and includes the provision of nearly universal free primary education, but it has not created a skilled workforce.”

This inescapable reality was the driving force behind Masedi Race’s pursuit of a post-graduate degree abroad, 5 years ago, which she hoped would boost her employability.

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The 33-year-old Agricultural Entomologist sits with Voice Woman to talk about the struggle to find a job despite her advanced technical expertise, especially considering the Ministry of Agriculture’s key priority of curbing the country’s excessive dependence on imported produce resulting in the ban on most vegetables and fruit in January 2022.

Exactly 10 years earlier, the Bobonong-born lass graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture from Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN).

Under the tutelage of the late Professor Obopile, who was her lecturer and research supervisor, Race was exposed to Agricultural Entomology.

“When I was doing my undergrad research at Sebele, Prof. Obopile chose entomology as our project topic and I worked closely with him to preserve cowpeas seeds using plant extracts, a biocontrol measure as an alternative to toxic chemicals. We used Moringa root powder to treat and preserve the seeds for a period of 3 months. After some time collecting, analysing and recording data, the experiment proved to be a success. We managed to publish the breakthrough discovery. As you know, Moringa was all the rage at the time. Ne gotwe ke makgonatsotlhe (the elixir of life). Some people used it for arthritis, gout, digestive disorders, or as a mosquito repellent, etc. Before, people used to use ash as a pesticide, so I decided to try Moringa on seeds, and it worked,” she says proudly.

Upon completion of her studies, the young lady joined thousands of young job seekers, surviving on casual or temporary work.

She began to seriously consider furthering her education when, one day, she spotted a scholarship advertisement on Facebook by the Indian Government through the High Commission.

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“I went over the list of courses on offer, such as agronomy and others like agricultural entomology. My former lecturer was an entomologist so, naturally, I was drawn to it. I then went to the Indian High Commission to make further enquiries and they assisted me accordingly. Out of the many who applied, only two people won the full 2-year scholarship and I was one of those.” she recounts, and adds, “Simply put, Entomology is the scientific study of insects.”

So, in 2018, Race left for Southwest India, Karnataka State – Carnatic region to begin her MSc in Agricultural Entomology.

“Karnataka is a coastal state popular with tourists, in places like Goa, for its beaches, flora and fauna, therefore cosmopolitan, and I loved it. The people were so kind and welcoming, I guess because they’re exposed to other races hence cultures; the only downside is that the place is overpopulated, making it impossible to maintain cleanliness. I was at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharwad. India’s education system is tough and well developed, thus extremely competitive. When I celebrated a 75% mark on an exam, my local counterparts would be grieved by anything less than 99%. It’s a demanding system; one just can’t breathe. To them, the ultimate level is a PhD, not a Master’s Degree. I believe over 90% of my former classmates went on to pursue the former,” she explains.

That was in 2020, but three years since attaining a Master’s, Sedi the Entomologist – as she is known on Facebook – has yet to find a permanent job, and she’s not the only one.

Her generation has been dealt a hard blow. “I’m at a loss for words because our situation is depressing. I know a lot of people who, like me, should be in occupations where our skills can be put to good use, nationally, but here we are.

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Some in the public service are way under-qualified and it is evident in the methodologies and technology they use.

We cannot even refer to what they use as technology, it is just some rudimentary, outdated strategy.

I feel I should be there contributing to the advancement of the sector,” she asserts, and adds, “In the field of Agriculture, when we talk about insects, we’re talking about pests, which pose a tremendous challenge to crops and farmers.

It is disheartening that we have not been given a chance to showcase our expertise.”

The Entomologist aspires to go into a lab where she can fully apply her skills to produce bio-pesticides, plant extracts, to go into the field and test those.

“If the chemicals do work, I can help local farmers and even patent them to go commercial. We need to practise and implement. I used to be a molemisi – agricultural extension/plant protection officer – in Olifandrift, for a 12-month period in 2017. Instead of government absorbing us, they call us for that one ploughing season. I once approached the ministry to find out why they’re inconsistent, and the only response I got was that there was no money. Let’s talk about our crop protection in Botswana; many Batswana farmers still use banned chemicals like cypermethrin, aldicarb and monocrothphos, just to mention a few – potent, inappropriate chemicals banned in other countries,” she says with a resigned expression, and adding there’s about 4 other entomologists in the country.

Sadly, this youthful mother-of-three lost her parents in 2006 making the breadwinner as she takes care of her 3 siblings, an aunt, and grandmother.

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Sedi continues to help farmers, who pay a pittance. “I was doing Form 3 when I lost my parents. My immediate sibling was in Standard 7; the last-born was just a baby then, so I take care of them as well.

I am passionate about what I do. I had a dream to sell pesticides so I went to the crop/plant production department to find out which ones are allowed.

They gave me the list, and I was shocked to discover certain toxic banned chemicals are in use, which means the list hasn’t been updated.

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Who is mandated to do the research to guard against the environmental and human health risks? I like visiting farmers, and in my visits I often discover countless worrying practices.

After examining a worm attacking a certain tomato farmer’s veggies, he disregarded my suggestion to use a safer chemical because he felt it wasn’t strong enough.

He was impatient and wanted to sell. Imagine the kinds of chemicals Batswana are consuming through fresh produce,” she asks rhetorically.

Indeed disturbing. But all is not lost as Sedi assures me that she will continue to help both commercial and small scale farmers keen to use her skills, even through kgotla meetings whenever there’s an outbreak or seasonally.

“Most of the farmers I assist are new to farming and thanks to a Good Samaritan, Mohumagadi Lopang Baig, who recently shared my page details on Facebook after I responded to her advert where she was looking for a driver, I have received a few enquiries. Some of the services she offers include scouting for P250, farm managing – P3k a month, spraying P700 per hectare. The truth is, for now, I find it hard to advise younger people to go into this field, until something changes, then there really is no hope, otherwise I will be misleading the coming generation,” she concludes with a sigh.

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